When the students in the day-care facility at The English Center — an adult education facility run by Miami-Dade County Public Schools in southeastern Miami — clipped the images of gifts they want for Christmas and glued them to their letters to Santa Claus, 4-year-old Robert Docina chose a tricycle, a Playskool Hero, a mini racetrack, Plasticine, an Iron Man doll and a tablet.
His list carries a price tag of about $230. But Robert did not know that his family is not likely to be able to meet his wishes because they already makes enormous sacrifices just to pay the $950 monthly rent in their small Little Havana apartment.
His mother, Ismary Rey, has not been able to find a job. And the salary of his father, Robert, a mechanic who works in Hialeah, is barely enough to meet the basic needs of the family, which includes a daughter in high school.
“My daughter is very good. She has not asked for anything this Christmas,” said Ismary Rey, 43, who is studying childcare at The English Center.
Gemma Carrillo, a former teacher and now education specialist at the public-relations office of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said, “When I learned about the economic situation that Ismary was facing, I promised her that I would speak to someone about finding her a job. In past years, her daughter might have helped the family with a salary, but now high school students have such a large study load that they cannot work. It’s not like it was 15 years ago.
“I was so moved when I saw her, so humble and such a fighter, that I immediately contacted the Wish Book … so that everyone would be aware of her needs.”
Carrillo is being helped by two members of the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department, Cmdr. Edwin López and Lt. Raul Correa, who put her in contact with the community.
Rey worked as a librarian in Santa Clara, Cuba, until she won a U.S. visa lottery. One of her aunts paid for the trips to Miami by her, her husband and daughter in 2006, and she cared for elderly people for five years until Robert was born. She then stopped working to care for the boy.
“Then I found out through friends that I could learn English at The English Center,” she said. With the help of Yamila Carballo, director of the center, she obtained financial assistance and was able to enroll in an Early Childhood Education program and also work as a volunteer there.
“She saw blue skies when she entered the program last semester because she could study at the same time that she had the boy in baby-sitting,” Carballo said. “When Ismary completes the 600 hours of study, finishes her portfolio of activities with children and passes the test from the Florida Department of Children and Family, she will graduate and receive a diploma as a preschool teacher.”
Carballo added that Rey may even be able to get a job teaching at The English Center, depending on the number of children enrolled, although with her diploma and experience at the center, she would be able to find a job in any day-care in the county.
Vera Lamar, one of Rey’s teachers, praised her drive to overcome all difficulties.
“Despite the obstacles faced by anyone who starts a new life in a new country, Ismary is entrepreneurial and has a passion for overcoming obstacles. But most important, she has the calling to be a teacher, and she’s very affectionate with the children,” Lamar said.
Said Rey: “I found here a new calling that I did not expect. My greatest dream is to graduate and provide an education for my children.”
Meanwhile, Robert is waiting for Santa Claus. Can someone grant his wishes?
Follow Arturo Arias-Polo on Twitter: @arturoariaspolo
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.